Tag Archives: EDUCATION

A Phonics Q&A with Sally and Sarah Featherstone

How do you integrate phonics practice into your daily teaching and learning routine, making sure children maximise phonics practice in a fun and engaging atmosphere? I.e. not lecture style or monotone.

Sally: It’s important children understand that phonics is relevant so I agree that it is fundamental to integrate it into the day’s learning. Try to put a phonics activity in the provision which, if possible, practises the sounds you’ve learned that week (sound sorting, magnetic letters and phoneme frames etc.) You could choose books for story time which feature the sound you’ve looked at that day. Plan phonics based activities for your teacher led sessions so that you can refer back to the phonics session, and ALWAYS send the children off from phonics or literacy teaching saying: ‘Today we have been learning about xxxx. See if you can find xxx in our classroom today and bring me what you find!’ At the end of the day make time to look at the phonics table as see what they’ve found.

Sarah: “I think this all depends on what kind of teacher you are. Nowhere does it say that children have to sit down for phonics, or write in a phonics lesson!

The Letters and Sounds scheme works by using a daily discrete 25 minute phonics session. This works because it is a little and often. This stops working if the children see it as ‘phonics time’ and don’t carry their learning through to all other areas of learning, so I have mixed feelings about it!

I try wherever possible to teach phonics through games. I teach the children how to play seven different phonics games – the best ones are the games where the rules and what you do remain the same, and the items you use vary according to the sound. This means you can ask children at the end of the phonics lesson ‘What game shall we play tomorrow?’ and they can choose – all you have to do is adapt it to the sound you are teaching the next day. Sometimes you can’t avoid having children write or sit down, but wherever possible I try to plan so that children don’t do either of these.

The fantastic thing about teaching children the games is that you can put the equipment in the provision and they know what to do and can revisit and consolidate. There are lots of great ideas for games in the Bloomsbury Early Years site, and in the range of Little Books.”

How do you ensure parents understand progression in teaching phonics so that they can use similar strategies at home to those used in school?

Sally: I think the best answer is to be open, give them the information, preferably in small amounts, about what exactly you are teaching each week and just one or two ideas of how they can help – perhaps something on the school website, or even on your classroom door?

Sarah: “I agree with Sally. Using the classroom door or notice board is a great way to keep parents informed – or pointing out your letter of the day display so parents can check as they drop children off.

Phonics is tricky for parents because, in order to best help, you need to make sure they are using pure sounds, which is hard! So, over time, I have made the decision to do the following with my parents:

  • I always invite them in once a half term for a phonics morning. I put out activities and games, and I invite them to watch me teach a phonics lesson. After that our phonics lead runs a workshop with parents that want to stay which teaches them how best to help with phonics at home. They can then ask questions they may have or ask for advice.
  • I always find that there is never enough time to practise High Frequency Words so I give parents a sheet at around the autumn half term that gives them fun games to play to help learn sight reading of HFWs (pairs, using the words as passwords on doors around the house, etc.) I then send home the next set of words regularly with children. You can also do this with phoneme grapheme correspondence by sending home letter cards each week (print them on a sheet they can cut out at home) or asking parents to practise letter names and capitals (which they often feel happier about doing).”

What has been your most magical Phonics learning moment?

Sally: Seeing children independently use and apply something you have taught them is why we all teach isn’t it! When I was in the classroom there was much more space in the curriculum for the emergent writing phase to develop. Seeing that writing feature more and more sounds they have learned until there are whole words you can read is magical. I also love the phonetic attempts children make in trying to spell unknown words – often they make more sense than the conventional spelling!

Sarah: “There are too many to mention really – I won’t tell you about the time I asked my Y1 class if they could think of any words that rhyme with anchor…!

It’s so rewarding when they respond to what you have put out for them – when children run up to you with a clipboard full of things they’ve found outside with the letter ‘s’ in for example. I love when the light bulb comes on and children realise they can read! I have a bell in my classroom that we ring when someone has a light bulb moment, and the surprise on their faces when they realise they’ve read a word and heard the word in the sounds they’ve made, then the pleasure on their face when you ring the bell and the whole class stops and cheers them. There’s nothing like it!”

What activities do you use to help children who struggle with blending and segmenting?

Sarah: You don’t say whether this is aural blending or reading that they are finding tricky. These strategies will work with both. Often, we are encouraged to start blending and segmenting with CVC words. If a child is very good at hearing sounds, this might not be a problem for them, but don’t forget the magic of the two letter blend. Teaching a CV or VC word like ‘at’ is a good place to start and this can be done with a whole class, small group, or one to one. Once children have the knack of blending two letter words confidently (it, on, up, in, an, is) then you can introduce a new initial letter and it is easier for the children to blend as they can say c-at, b-at, m-at etc. If the child is ready for reading and this is the blending they are struggling with, then I would use a phoneme frame with the two letter blend in one box as if it were a digraph and the initial sound in the first box. This will encourage the children to recognise the known chunk of the word and this makes it easier for them to blend. A great tool for this is to use magnetic letters. You can then tape or glue gun together the two letter words and encourage the children to choose a letter to be the initial letter, and blend the word they have made. They can be real or nonsense words and this activity, once they are familiar with it, can go in the provision for them to practise.

What things can I observe and notice that will help me to know whether children are learning and engaged with their phonics?

Sally: If they are noticing print in the environment or choosing to look at books, then they are aware of the printed word, and you can then observe to see if they are using any of the strategies you have taught. If they are, then they are learning!

Sarah: You can assess them – that’s the easiest way to tell! You will see the sounds you are teaching appearing in their writing, or when you talk to them or observe them at play.

What do you observe and notice about children who are ready to move on to grapheme phoneme correspondence?

Sarah: Once children are noticing print in the environment and can write their name, understanding the link between the squiggles they are writing and the fact this represents their name, they are ready to start phase 2 of letters and sounds. HOWEVER, teachers often start this before children can confidently aurally blend. This is like giving someone a handful of screws, but no screwdriver! Children should be coming into Reception able to confidently aurally blend. Make sure you communicate with staff from your nursery providers to make sure they understand this expectation. Then if children can’t blend, you can put extra measures in place, but at least most of your class will already have that skill.

Question 7: Have you ever used or seen a really successful provocation that has had strong links to phonics? What made it engaging?

Sally: I have seen ‘phonic baskets’ used effectively. These are baskets of objects which share the same initial sound or digraph. There are lots of ideas for items to include in the Little Book of Phonics.

Sarah: “Ohhh! Lots!

  • A fishing game using magnetic fishing rods and letters with paper clips on. The children fish for a sound and if they can identify it, they get to keep it. The one with most wins.
  • Racing to get to a letter or word.
  • Writing a message to the mermaid – a tray of sand and shells with letters written on. The children wrote words using the letters and left them for the mermaid to read – she left them a message to read the next morning.
  • Cut out paper always works a treat. If your small world is a zoo, then animal shapes to write on and practise writing the animal names, bats to write on in the superhero small world, leaves to write on in the outdoors, etc. Always leave a provocation that gives children a reason to write – e.g. put an alien toy in the zoo and leave the provocation ‘Can you label the animals in the zoo so the alien knows what they are?’”

Have you observed any brilliant moments where children have taken their phonics learning and incorporated it into their Child Initiated learning? What did you use to support that happening?

Sally: I think the key is to have writing opportunities everywhere in the classroom. Clipboards are great for outside and sending children on sound hunts is great. It’s important to make sure that when they feel the will to write, the equipment is there and is inviting! Then the key is to put things in the environment that engage and excite them. Children will often naturally want to write about things they are interested in.

Sarah: I remember being really disappointed when I was told that a child, who was finally making progress, was going on holiday for three weeks in the spring term. I chatted to her about her holiday and what she would be doing and said, ‘You could really help Mum and Dad by writing a list of what you want to take with you…’ thinking to myself that she probably wouldn’t. She spent the whole afternoon writing an A4 page long list of all the things she would take (swimn coshtyum). I asked if I could photocopy it, but she was so proud of it, she didn’t want to let it out of her sight, so she wrote me one I could keep! Without copying! That demonstrates what a difference context, relevance and the child’s interests can make to motivation!

How do you incorporate your phonics into your classroom areas (outdoor and indoor – displays and areas)?

Sally: “Try having a phonics table so that children can display things they can hear that sound in. You can change the sound each day or have the same one for a few days. Make the area attractive and ask children to make a label to go with their object, and at the end of the day, review what’s on there, read labels and reward with stickers (or whatever your reward system is). If children get recognition for their efforts, they will respond and their confidence will grow.

  • Try interactive displays using magnetic letters, matching HF or CVC words, or sounds.
  • Use your listening station for games like identifying animal sounds or read along stories.
  • Display the children’s writing!
  • Leave whatever resources you have used in that day’s phonics lessons in the provision for the children to use.”

Sarah: “My number one tip with writing in the environment is to not undervalue drawing. Children draw what matters to them. Encouraging and valuing their pictures and modelling drawing a story is powerful. As the children realise (especially boys) that drawing a story is as valid as writing one, and that you will scribe the story that goes with their drawings, they get more confident about making marks on paper and themselves having a relevance (agency). From that it is a short step to labelling their drawings, and then a hop to captions. Before you know it, they will write their story and illustrate it rather than the other way round!

My other top tip is to remember how powerful their name is. It is important to them and has relevance. It is the first word they will learn to read and write. Once they can read and write their name, they will know all those sounds without you having tried! They will be motivated to read and write their friend’s names, and then they can use them to write cards, and invitations, to label drawings, to hand out letters etc. Names are hugely powerful and I would have their names on display EVERYWHERE! Blue tack them to walls wherever you have a space, then they will be able to go and get their name (or their friend’s) to help them write on their work, write to others etc. They will then start to spot those letters in other words. It’s like magic!”

How do you differentiate phonics to make them accessible for students of all abilities?

Sarah: “I have taught in schools where phonics is streamed and the children split into smaller groups working on the same phase, and in schools where there is whole class phonics. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I would argue though, that with whichever method you have taught in schools where phonics is streamed and the children split into smaller groups working on the same phase, and in schools where there is whole class phonics. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I would argue though, that with whichever method your school uses, you will still have to differentiate within the group you are teaching. Here are some ideas:

  • Use games, particularly ones where you can ask lots of questions of the children. Then think before-hand about how you can ask questions that challenge the ones that have ‘got it’ and some simpler questions that get the less confident children to have a go, to tell you what they know and to feel successful. You can vary the amount of assistance you give them in answering, and in equipment you might give them to support them.
  • Make sure the lower ability children are nearer to you and feel supported by you.
  • If you are teaching whole class, make sure that independent groups are doing something they know how to do, so that they feel confident.
  • Give more time to less able children to answer, write, read, respond, and extend your more able children by asking supplementary questions.
  • Always ask yourself before any lesson ‘what will I do if they find this too easy, what will I do if they find this too hard’ – Your answers are your differentiation
  • Always support EAL children with visuals, and where possible, real things to support their language. If you are sounding out shell, show them a real shell, not a picture.
  • Try not to use the interactive whiteboard if you can – it allows children to zone out too easily and you will be looking at the board, and not at them.”

How often should you practise phonics for maximum benefit?

Sarah: “Teaching phonics  – I would teach daily, and religiously! Try not to sacrifice it to assemblies, play practise, dress up or charity days – the only exception I would allow is for trips. Even if you squash it into your story time, try to make phonics opportunities every day.

Practising phonics – I would try to grab any opportunity you can to use phonics throughout the day. Here are some ideas:

  • Let them go to get their coats one at a time by sounding out their names.
  • When you are reading anything to them, sound out words in sentences for them to blend or point out high frequency words.
  • When you are shared reading, make sure you make mistakes, or get stuck so that they can help you.
  • When you spot the sound you have learned that day – in a book or in the classroom – stop everyone and point it out – encourage children to bring you any example they find (and reward them! Stop everyone and big them up!)
  • Same as you would with number, shape, anything, use every opportunity to expose them to phonics.”

How would you advise we keep up the phonics momentum in years 3/4?

Sarah: “The screening check is a nightmare really because lots of schools think once it is done, there is no need for further phonics, and this causes so many problems for the children who aren’t fluent readers, or confident in their strategies.

  • I would make an area in your classroom that is devoted to SPAG and phonics. Get the children involved in making it exciting and contributing to it. Have word games in it for children to play (Yes! Play!)
  • Have competitions for any new words you come across in books – how would you spell it? Use post it notes and get them to try. Stick them on the wall and praise their strategies and confidence to have a go.
  • Use segmenting and blending in routines so they are still exposed to hearing harder words segmented. Sound their names out as they line up, go to wash hands, come and fetch their work, etc.
  • Play with words – make up some nonsense words and use them in some nonsense poems. They will enjoy it and their confidence will grow.
  • Make sure you share reading something on the board or in a big book every day – use this as a teaching opportunity and spot challenging phonics or spellings that they are consistently finding difficult.

Most important of all, I would say that any child who has not passed the screening check in year two is probably one of the children for whom synthetic phonics isn’t working. I could read before I started school, but I didn’t learn using phonics – I learned by reading whole words, and by recognising chunks in words – root words. By years three and four, it is appropriate to try some alternative strategies and you can teach these to all children as they will help with unfamiliar words.”

Sally and Sarah Featherstone have worked together on several fantastic books. Discover them all on our website.

The Little Book of Maths Songs & Games The Little Book of Writing The Little Book of Phonics

The Importance of Arts in Primary Education, by Ghislaine Kenyon

I’ve recently been spending time with opera singers – not as a punter in some fancy opera house, but as external evaluator for the Learning and Participation programme of Garsington Opera. Garsington does indeed have a ‘house’, a light-filled structure set in the gentle hills of the Wormsley estate in Buckinghamshire. And the people who attend operas on this main stage do dress up and picnic on the lawns; the audio is of clinking champagne glasses and refined chit-chat – ‘country-house opera’ in every sense.

But now imagine a day when the sounds echoing across those same lawns are those of primary age children playing, chasing, cartwheeling, taking over the space in a way that children offered such green expanses just do. It’s the interval of the OperaFirst performance of Fantasio – a comic fairy-tale romp by the 19th century composer Jacques Offenbach. And at the final curtain call the cast are greeted with Glasto-style whooping from the audience of 600 school children with their teachers. Parents waiting outside on pick-up duty can scarcely believe that this deafeningly enthusiastic response is to an opera – an art-form considered by so many to be elite and exclusive.

Let’s reel back a bit – this OperaFirst performance was much more than some worthy ‘take children to culture’ exercise of the kind that most publicly-funded arts organisations are obliged to offer.  (I’m not being critical here – an actual experience is better than none!) Instead it was the culmination of a serious bit of work by Garsington’s L&P department in local state primary, secondary and special schools: Fantasio was explored creatively in two intense days of workshops involving singing, stagecraft, composition and shared performance. As a former teacher observing these workshops, it’s clear that to me there’s a straight line leading from the skills of the creative teams working in classrooms to that rapture in the opera-house a few weeks later.  It starts with Karen Gillingham, Garsington’s  talented and charismatic creative director of L&P, who brings together a small and well-matched group of professionals for each school: a singer, a music director a stage director, and a vitally important L&P producer, who sorts out every practical detail from school liaison to sourcing a singer’s favourite lunchtime sandwich.

At Stokenchurch Primary School stage director Hazel Gould gets groups of Year 5 children to freeze- frame the emotional moments of the opera: ‘show me Princess Elsbeth upset at the death of her friend the jester, which happens on her wedding day to a man she’s being forced to marry by her father the king’  the creative and disciplined working situation has been so well set up by this time that the children speedily tackle this complex situation. At Milbrook Primary School, singer Charmian Bedford kneels on the floor and addresses one of the songs from the opera directly to the children sitting two metres away. It’s about that unwanted wedding day that she’s so dreading. One or two children giggle (as they put it, ‘singing really high, not like normal singing’) but most are open-mouthed, admiring, surprised. Music-director/composer John Barber helps children compose their own songs on this theme: ’we’re going to compose a song giving the princess some advice. Imagine you’re the princess’s maid and you know she’s making a big mistake agreeing to this wedding’.  A boy pipes up ‘My lady, I know that you want to keep the peace, but this prince might not be what you think he is’. This is how children (or anyone) can learn about the key elements of opera which are, very simply, story-telling through acting and singing. The OperaFirst does educate children about opera, of course, but, as I witnessed it, it also demonstrates more generally the power of an arts-rich curriculum in primary schools. The arts reach us because they address us 9781472961051emotionally. There’s nothing more motivating than that and it’s the reason why I, having worked both in schools and in the cultural sector wanted to, no, needed to write The Arts in Primary Education. By showcasing projects  such as OperaFirst and many other exemplary arts-based curricula in schools across the country I’m hoping that schools leaders who often for understandable reasons have left the arts as box-ticking, fringe activities, will find reasons to embrace them wholeheartedly.

Ghislaine Kenyon worked formerly as Deputy Head of Education at the National Gallery and then Head of Learning at Somerset House. She has curated several exhibitions, including Tell Me a Picture in 2000 with Quentin Blake. Her latest book The Arts in Primary Education is out now!

Explore the theme of migration with these Drama exercises for secondary students

With the subject of Migration Migration Playsbecoming more pressing and relevant in twenty-first century Britain, it is vital that we are able to have an informed debate about it, particularly with young people. Drama and performance can become a vehicle for those debates and feelings that we all have around migration.

Fin Kennedy’s new book, Migration Plays explores the theme of migration through four new plays. He explains the background to the book in his introduction here:

“Migration Stories was a Tamasha schools project delivered by playwrights and directors working in several different secondary schools in London and Derby. The format involved twenty-five Drama students from Years 7 to 10 coming off-timetable for a day and participating in exercises designed to unpack their thoughts and feelings on the topic of migration, and encourage them to respond creatively to what they were learning. These sessions were facilitated by the director, with the playwright taking notes. Each playwright then went away and worked up the ideas generated into a twenty-minute script for performance, with parts for the whole class.”

Migration Plays shares these plays along with director notes that you can use with your Drama class. This is then followed by a section of drama games and more involved exercises to generate characters and stories.


Two exercises to try today

Section 1: Exercises to unpack the theme of migration

Exercise: What’s in a name?

Set-up: Participants sit in a circle on chairs or the floor. This is usually the first activity of the workshop.

Teacher instructions: Invite everybody in the circle, one by one, to say their name. It can be their first name, their middle name or their surname. Then go round again and ask each student to share with the group one thing about their name. It could be one of the following:

  • What your name means.
  • Which language or culture is associated with your name.
  • Do you like your name?
  • Who gave you your name?
  • If you were a boy/girl what would you have been called instead?
  • What would you prefer to be called if you weren’t given your name?

Notes: Pupils generally respond very positively to this activity, especially if it is used as the first activity of the workshop. Most people like sharing something about themselves, but of course people can be given the option to ‘pass’. The teacher must be ready to positively respond to each name and to keep this activity flowing. We find that this activity inevitably brings up some migration references, and then these can be explored further in the subsequent activities.

Section 3: Improvisation exercises

Exercise: Creating obstacles and conflict

Set-up: Drama studio or cleared classroom. Whiteboard needed.

Teacher instructions: As a class, make a list of obstacles relating to migration, which might cause some kind of conflict for the migrant. Explain that obstacles and conflict are an important part of drama, because watching characters struggle to get what they want is how they learn and change. The best obstacles are often another character. Write their examples on the whiteboard. The list might include:

  • Assembling what they need for a long journey.
  • Applying for a visa.
  • Booking a boat ticket.
  • Saying goodbye to someone they love.
  • Finding suitable food.
  • Running out of money.
  • Preparing for an interview at the border.
  • Looking for work.
  • Finding somewhere to stay.
  • Meeting the locals.
  • Communicating with home.

In threes or fours, choose one obstacle and rehearse a short improvisation in which A and B are migrants engaged in this activity. C and/or D stands in their way and could either help them or block them depending on how the scene goes. The dialogue is about A and B trying to persuade C and/or D to give them what they want. Give the group five minutes’ rehearsal time, then watch a few.

After each scene, ask the audience:

  • What clues are in the scene about what the nature of the relationship is between the migrant characters?
  • What tactics do they use to try to get what they want?
  • How are they changed by the experience of dealing with this obstacle?
  • What might they try next?

Migration Plays is a Methuen Drama title and was published in August. Purchase your copy or request an inspection copy for your school here.

Ideas for Writing Original Material for Performance

Devising TheatreFor us, the theme or subject of the theatre we are devising always comes from an idea or question we have a direct relationship to or interest in. As a result the process of  material often requires us to draw from our own lives and experience and discuss our own opinions and personal points of view. In this way we also call it autobiographical. Devising autobiographical theatre in a collaborative way has led us to develop a number of different approaches to making original material. These are:

  • Writing Text
  • Movement and Choreography
  • Performance Images
  • Action
  • Music

When we are creating a new show we find that working in these different ways can help us to better understand our inquiry question from a variety of angles as well as allowing us to build a dynamic and diverse bank of performance material from which to choose. We also find that having a series of distinct ways to approach making material means that members of the group are able to work to their own strengths and area of interest. This allows each performer to utilize their individual learning style and find a form of creative expression that allows them a level of autonomy and ownership and the freedom to best communicate themselves and their point of view. In the past we have enjoyed watching young performers develop in new and unexpected directions as they experiment with different ways to create meaning and present themselves on stage.

Here are two new ways to use with your students when writing text for performance

Questions

Questions are our most favourite way to write text for performance. We love the act of asking questions because it feels so integral to who we are as human beings and our process of trying to understand the world around us. As theatre makers we are definitely more interested in questions than answers. Questions are possibilities. They open up our view of things and ask us to re-examine the way things are and the way they might be. Questions are action and dialogue and grappling with the complexity of things. It is actually impossible to find a show that we have made which does not contain at least one set of questions. They are knitted into the fabric of everything we do and everything we care about.

There are also multiple creative options as to how to place questions in a performance. You can ask questions to another performer, to one audience member or the whole audience in general or to yourself rhetorically. You can look for answers or leave the questions open as a text in themselves. The choices are endless.

Ideas for generating text from questions

  • Write a set of questions you have for someone in charge
  • Write a set of questions you have never asked
  • Write a set of questions you don’t know the answers to
  • Write a set of questions about big ideas
  • Write a set of questions about a subject you know very well
  • Write a set of questions you have about love
  • Write a set of questions for a friend
  • Write a set of questions for your family about you
  • Write a quiz on a specialist subject
  • Write a test for your teacher
  • Write a set of questions that do not have answers to

Letters

Letters can be an effective way to focus your ideas and explore your starting point from a particular perspective or point of view.  Letters also provide a creative way to bring something of the outside world into the performance. They can allow you to touch on the wider socio-political context of things or a lens with which to view a memory of a different time and place.

Letters can be found or sourced and brought into the rehearsal room; like a letter from a historical figure or a childhood pen-friend. They can also be written as part of the making process to allow you to explore the central inquiry form a different angle.

Ideas for generating text from letters

  • Write a letter to yourself when you were 5
  • Write a letter to yourself when you are older
  • Bring in a letter you received in the last month (bills/junk mail included)
  • Bring in a letter you have always kept
  • Write a letter you will never send
  • Write a letter to a celebrity
  • Write a letter to a stranger
  • Write a love letter
  • Write a chain letter
  • Write a letter to someone who can change things
  • Write a letter you wish you’d received

This was an extract taken from A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theatre by Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore. You can order your copy here.

Playing Shops: How Abie Longstaff wrote Cavegirl

There are six children in my family. I was the oldest and the bossiest, so I coordinated endless games to amuse my younger sisters. We stole Mum and Dads’ clothes for dress-ups; we pulled all the cushions off the sofa to make a gymnastics team; we even used the old wooden hostess trolley to sail away to sea.

sisters
Abbie and her sisters

One of our favourite styles of game was shops! There’s something about buying and selling that really appeals to children. I think it’s because it’s a basic form of transaction; one that’s easy to understand. Someone has an object to sell, the other offers to buy it. So as children, my sisters and I made pretend shops that sold sweets, or books or toys to one another. I saw this game continue in my own children – they loved making yard sales: setting up a little stall on the street to sell old toys or DVDs for pennies, helping at the school fair with second uniform or biscuit sales.

With my first books, The Fairytale Hairdresser series, I created a world of shops, where the Big Bad Wolf is an optician (‘all the better to see you with’), Little Bo Peep has a wool shop; and the Tooth Fairy is a dentist. My main character, Kittie Lacey, has a salon. The books celebrate entrepreneurship and creativity. This theme is evidently close to my heart because my chapter books, The Magic Potions Shop, also feature a shop! It’s funny how the things you loved as a child are brought out in the stories you write. On school visits I often tell children that the games they play, and the books they read will influence the kind of writer they’ll become, and I guess I’m proof of that.

With this new book, Cavegirl, I’ve taken the idea of buying and selling back to Neolithic times – the late Stone Age. The Neolithic period (very roughly 8000 to 3000 BC) was an era of change. Societies had begun to develop; communities living in fixed shelters, farming crops and keeping livestock.  Clothing was made of animal skins, and stone was fashioned into tools or weapons. Settling in one place allowed time for creativity, in the form of pottery, cave paintings and jewellery. On a trip to the UAE to see schools, I was lucky enough to visit the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, which displays ancient artefacts from the Stone and Bronze ages, including arrowheads, axes, tools and fireplaces excavated in the surrounding area. Some of the region used to be underwater, and I was even taken to see ancient seashells embedded in the Desert Mountains.

ancient sea
Ancient shells in the desert rock

The trip really inspired me to set a story in this period.

In those days, a barter system was in operation; goods such as weapons, pottery and copper were traded. Trade is the most basic form of commerce – one that children practise every time they swap a sticker or a trading card.

In Cavegirl, I wanted to play with the game of buy and sell in its purest form, but I wanted to add in entrepreneurship and creativity. I wanted my character to adapt the object she swaps, enhancing its value each time. In this way she moves up the ladder of trade, aiming to purchase the perfect birthday present for Mum. Only – it doesn’t all go to plan.Cavegirl

Abie Longstaff is the eldest of six children and grew up in Australia, Hong Kong and France. She knows all about squabbling, chaos and bossing younger sisters around so she logically began her career as a barrister. She started writing when her children were born and lives in Hove with her family. Abie writes for children from picture books to older fiction and is best known for the Fairytale Hairdresser series. Her latest book Cavegirl is out now!

How to Increase Poor Behaviour in Schools

Oversized classes

Clear research has shown that the ability of the teacher to teach reduces in relationship to the increase in the size of the class. This of course is an obvious correlation. Indeed, it has been suggested that teacher’s effectiveness increases rapidly as the class sizes go below 20.

Questions to ask are how then do teachers in schools with high pp percentages manage to both control and teach large classes? Particularly considering the increase in the numbers of children with SEMH. The evidence for this may be seen in the significant increase in exclusions in primary schools.

Reduced support services

Over the last 10 years there has been a significant drop in the support services available to schools in relation to children with SEMH.

  1. The increased cost of advice from the schools’ psychological service, coming out of an already squeezed school budget
  2. The admitted failure of both PCAMHS and CAMHS to respond significantly to school’s need for advice with more severe SEMH children, and the lack of long-term commitment to those pupils
  3. The reduction of teacher outreach services (BSS) for teachers and schools struggling with the more profound cases of mental instability and behavioural dysfunction
  4. Lack of quality social support services for schools struggling to manage severe pastoral problems
  5. The inconsistency of the hub system, often creating more problems than they solve

Inadequate analysis of behaviour

  1. Lack of appropriate tools for objective measurement of behaviour patterns of children and groups
  2. Lack of clear and reliable record keeping of incidents

Ineffective Insets on behaviour management

  1. Lack of available knowledge in the school to enable differentiation of presenting behavioural symptoms displayed in the school setting
  2. The virtual absence of appropriate targeted in-service training, on the management of children and carers presenting significant mental health problems.

Inadequate curriculum content

With a narrowed curriculum driven by league tables etc., schools now reduce the amount of time given to the more creative subjects. As a consequence, the more difficult children miss out on areas they may be more competent in, compared with more academic subjects, resulting in poor academic self-image. Research shows clearly that this poor academic self-image correlates strongly with poor pupil behaviour.

Insufficient differentiation

  1. With increased class sizes, differentiation is more complex and as SEMH pupils are often below average, they rarely succeed in the more academic subjects
  2. Differentiation can sometimes mean differentiation by outcome; creating a sense of failure reinforcing poor academic self-image

Insensitivity to pupils’ social dynamics

  1. Because of their behaviour, SEMH children are more likely to be isolated, or form dysfunctional negative groupings. As a consequence, their lack of inclusion causes significant difficulties for the teacher to manage
  2. Paradoxically, outside the classroom, these children have a very high self-image, but when that is exposed to the learning environment the pupil is conflicted, which challenges their self-image and consequently creates significant difficulties

Inconsistent behaviour management in school

  1. If there is inconsistency in adult’s responses to both good and bad behaviour, these sensitive fragile children are confused and consequently their behaviour becomes erratic.
  2. This is particularly evident in areas of free association and movement around the school where rules of conduct are not consistently applied by all managing adults.
  3. Research has shown that clear leadership built on sound and clear ownership by all staff regarding behaviour management significantly reduces behaviour problems.

In this field, so often the child is defined as the problem. However, this may not always be the case. Schools and individual teachers should constantly reassess the success or otherwise of their performance and strategies. Always keep in mind that the school experience of these very unfortunate children may be in sharp contrast to their environment out of school.

I would warn against punitive methods, because only through consistent co-ordinated positive reinforcement will many of these kids see the light of approval, giving them an opportunity to re-assess their own value, and take ownership of their own behaviour.

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Roy Howarth started his teaching career in London working in comprehensive education, remand homes and a 50-bed school for profoundly disturbed adolescents. He was then Headteacher at Northern House Special School in Oxford for over 20 years and now works in primary schools as a general advisor on both class management and behaviour management plans for individual pupils.

For 100 strategies to improve behaviour, Roy’s new book 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Supporting Pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties is out now!

 

 

 

Beautifully Bilingual

I am lucky enough to have grown up within a large extended family rich in language and culture. My father was born in Portsmouth, Southsea with a ‘traditional’ mother and father in the sense that they sat down every Sunday for a roast lunch and forced my dad to attend church even though they never actually went themselves! My mother was born in Nairobi, Kenya and came to England where she met my dad at university and the story goes (as my dad likes to tell it) that my mum was something of a mysterious Indian beauty amongst the students and by the time my dad realised she wasn’t a rich, Hindu princess, they had already married!

My sister and I spent a lot of our school holidays either at my Nanima’s house playing with my cousins or at an Indian wedding, which seem to happen every other week! Hindu weddings are beautiful! Full of music, colour and dancing. And whilst I loved every minute of it, I barely understood anything that was happening as it was all spoken in Hindi, Guajarati or Urdu. As my Nanima also barely spoke any English and my mum herself spoke five different languages, it was decided that I should attend Saturday school and learn to speak, read and write Gujarati. I suddenly found myself in a new environment where I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying or read the workbooks or make friends, as most of the other children either spoke to each other in Gujarati or Hindi. I went home to my parents so upset to be out of my comfort zone that after a few meagre weeks, I eventually quit – something I continue to look back on regretfully.

Urdu

(Me (in the blue dress) and my beautifully bilingual family at my sisters English/Hindu wedding)

When I give training about teaching children with English with an additional language, I like teachers to experience first-hand what it is like for children new to English by asking them to follow simple instructions given in another language. The feedback is always ‘enlightening’. Imagine yourself in a new country, where you don’t know the spoken or the written language, the culture, the routines, the traditions. How would you navigate? How would you know where the toilets are? Or how to ask for help? This is what it is like for all children with EAL. On top of that, they would be dealing with getting used to having left their old familiar school, home, friends and possible family members – that’s a lot for any adult to deal with, let alone a child.

My advice to teachers is this: do your research! If you know you are about to have a new pupil, try and meet them and their parents beforehand (home visits are great for this). However, as we all know, sometimes you don’t have time to do this and a child suddenly appears in your class first thing Monday morning with no warning or information. So, make the time! Arrange to meet parents as soon as possible, consider that they might need an interpreter too. Find out basic information about the child; how do you pronounce their name? How much English do they understand? What do they like doing? Do they have any dietary requirements? Where are they from? (In Thailand, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body and so you should never touch their heads and in some Asian, African and Latin American countries it is deemed disrespectful to look a member of authority such as a teacher, in the eyes). Are they religious? How do you say key survival words or phrases such as toilet, lunch, home, sit, stand, coat on etc?

It is also important to make sure that children with EAL aren’t categorised as being in a low ability group or SEN group (although it is useful to find out from parents if they are concerned about their child’s development or speech in their home language). Many teachers can often mistake a child with EAL’s ‘silent’ phase as being SEN when actually they are simply watching, listening and observing.

An aspect of planning that I often see in schools is where teachers differentiate for ‘SEN/EAL’ – that’s not to say that you might use similar resources e.g. visual aids, but for many children with SEN they need lessons that are broken down in manageable steps and need to take in consideration sensory and physical needs. When working with children that are new to English, you should be thinking about pre-teaching key vocabulary in the form of games and fun activities, repetition, gestures, buddying up with another child or adult that may be able to translate.

My mum was one of the first EAL consultants in Croydon and she would go into schools and support teachers through training, observations and in-class support. Unfortunately today, due to our ever increasing cuts in all things related to the public sector, specialist consultants are few and far between. The feedback I often get from NQTs is that supporting children with EAL is barely covered in teacher training despite this being an area that the majority of new teachers struggle with.

I wanted to create a resource for Early Years teachers that was easy to access and not too ‘wordy’, understanding that teachers’ time is limited. I always loved the ‘50 Fantastic Ideas’ series because it let me dip in and out for new ideas and the activities were usually easy to resource and fun to do. So, I decided to write 50 Fantastic Ideas for Children with EAL. I tried to design the games and activities so that you would use them not as a stand-alone intervention for children with EAL because, as we all know, our time is stretched, but instead you can use them with a whole class or in small groups with children that might need encouragement to build relationships, to enhance their speech, to help with 9781472952639.jpgconfidence and to develop respect and knowledge of other cultures and customs. I recently hosted a network meeting for teachers in Southwark on how to support children with EAL in the class. Afterwards, one of the EYFS consultants said it was one of the highest attended meetings they had held which proves that it continues to be an area where even the most experienced teachers want help in. I hope that my book goes a little towards easing this need.

 

Natasha Wood has worked in the Early Years for nine years and has built a great breadth of knowledge in child development and play. Her latest book, 50 Fantastic Ideas for Children with EAL, is out now!

Why the Golden Horsemen Came Riding

Growing up, I knew almost nothing about Baghdad and the Middle East except that an author there had written the 1001 Nights, or the Arabian Nights as my Year 4 teacher used to call it. It’s a wonderful anthology of fairytales that has filled the heads of many a child with the notion of flying carpets, thieves hidden in wooden barrels, genies and magic lamps. I received the Bancroft Classics edition for my eighth birthday, which I re-read endlessly. No author was credited with the work on the front cover but I hardly noticed. I devoured the Sinbad films on telly too, especially the Ray Harryhousen versions which had incredible special effects. But of the real Baghdad, I remained mostly ignorant.

In my teenage years, the Middle East started to feature on the news, but nearly always shown in a bad light. Uprisings and terror attacks flickered across the television screens. News reports showed tanks lumbering across deserts, flat-roofed houses being blown up, grim-faced youths hijacking planes. Not surprisingly I never connected those images with the magical lands of ‘Open Sesame’ and delicious lakoum.

Fast forward a few decades and I am doing an author visit at a school in Bradford where I lived for over ten years. Most of the children were of Pakistani and Indian origin. It was a warm day and we were eating our lunch out in the playground. We got to talking about our most cherished wishes. One boy said in a broad Yorkshire accent, ‘my biggest wish is to go truffle hunting with my father in the Afghan mountains.’

It turned out the boy’s father was Afghani. Trapped in the fraught and long-winded process of sorting out his immigration paperwork, he still lived in Afghanistan. The son visited once a year but never during the truffle hunting season.  It was a Eureka moment for me. It brought images of a magical Middle East flooding back into my head. Not the clichéd magic of genies and flying carpets, but the enchantment of real life still tied to the land and the seasons.

I started reading up on life in Middle Eastern countries, now and in the past and I fell for its charm all over again. Baghdad especially drew my interest. Based around the ‘beyt al Hikma’, meaning ‘house of knowledge’, a world-famous library built in the 9th century, it established itself as a world leader in the arts, science and innovation.

As I started sharing my discoveries in my talks to schools, I learnt that most children, even those of Muslim heritage, were unaware of Baghdad’s glorious heyday, of its massive contribution to the worlds of science, mathematics, medicine, poetry and translation. Without its scholars and their mentors, including the powerful caliphs who built the libraries and schools, much of the writings of the ancient world would now be lost forever.

9781472955999.jpgToday the Golden Age of Islam is part of the National Curriculum in KS2. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore the real history of a culture we in the West so often overlook. My book The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad was written to accompany the subject. Like my other works for Bloomsbury Education, it’s a rollicking adventure but it is also packed with information and insight into the culture and the period. I hope you all enjoy it.

 

The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad is bestselling historical fiction author Saviour Pirotta’s latest novel. Out now!

‘IF’ For Teachers by Joshua Seigal

“I was inspired to write this poem during a workshop I ran for students, in which we looked at Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem ‘If’. I asked them to have a go at writing their own versions of the poem, based on their ideas about what constitutes an effective leader. I decided to give it a go too, and this is the result. Enjoy!”

If you can keep your voice when all about you
Are using theirs to bellow over you;
If you can dish out rules when all kids flout you
But see the humour in their flouting too;
If you can care and not get tired of caring
Or, being dissed, maintain a steady poise,
Or, being sworn at, not give way to swearing,
And see the stillness in amongst the noise;

If you can plan but not make plans your mistress;
If you can chill and have a nice weekend;
If you can still take care of all your business
And not let children drive you round the bend;
If you can bare to see the gifts you’ve given
Received by ingrates with a sullen grunt,
Or feel the fuel diminish, but stay driven
And smile when the Head is being a…difficult person to work with;

If you can make an ally of a parent
And both look out for what you think is best
For Little Johnny when he has been errant
And hasn’t done his work or passed his test;
If you can force your brain and heart and sinew
To teach the things that Ofsted says you should,
And so make sure the governors don’t bin you
And that the school maintains its place as ‘Good’;

If you can talk with yobs and keep composure
Or plug away when they don’t give a damn;
If you can act when there’s been ‘a disclosure’
And not display the news on Instagram;
If you can keep calm while you have to wing it
With sixty minutes worth of ‘drama games’,
Yours is the class, and everything that’s in it
And – which is more – you might not go insane.

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For more content from Joshua, follow him on Twitter or visit his website.

 

WHAT WOULD YOU ASK A POET?

How do you teach poetry?

Haven’t a clue – but I can tell you about some  really exciting poetry activities you can do with KS2 classes…

READ YOUR CLASS A POEM every morning. Every single morning. I know lots of KS2 teachers that do this and they say the results are manifold.

PUT ON POETRY CONCERTS/ASSEMBLIES – try whole classes performing poems such as Boneyard Rap (Wes Magee), Gran, Can You Rap? (Jack Ouseby), Little Red Rap/I Wanna Be A Star (Tony Mitton), Talking Turkeys (Benjamin Zephaniah), How To Turn Your Teacher Purple (by me..woops.).

twgsc-twitter-imagesv2-2WRITE POEMS AS PART OF YOUR CLASS TOPICS – poetry modules are great, but nothing beats writing poems for a real purpose – creating poems that express a subject matter that a class is enthused about and fully immersed in. Try shape poems (rivers, mountains, volcanoes, planets), kennings ( Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans), haiku ( rainforest creatures, sea creatures), and best of all free verse (memories, real events) – children too easily get stuck in the rhyme rut. And you don’t need to be an expert in all the various forms of poetry – just knowing a few is absolutely fine!

PUBLISH CHILDREN’S POEMS around the school, in the hall, on the school website. And I’ve noticed that children love nothing more than having to take a brand new poem of theirs to show the headteacher!

FIND A RANGE OF POETRY BOOKS – single poet collections and themed anthologies. Set up a poetry corner or poetry book box. Public libraries always have a great selection of contemporary children’s poetry titles – and Oxfam bookshops too are usually good for poetry.

PUT UP POETRY TREES IN THE CLASS/HALL – featuring poems by the children, or the children’s favourite poems.

PHOTOCOPY POEMS and put them all over the school, down the corridors  – even in the lo0s!

HAVE A STAFFROOM POETRY READING one lunchtime. Share adult or children’s poems you like.

INVITE A POET IN … why not? A poet will model how to read/perform poems to an twgsc-twitter-imagesv2-1audience, as well as how to run poetry writing workshops in a classroom.

What advice do you have for teachers?

Apart from buying my Bloomsbury teachers’ book Let’s Do Poetry In Primary Schools! as well as multiple class copies of The World’s Greatest Space Cadet (sorry, that was cheeky! ) – and apart from the activities I have recommended earlier, I would say just go for it. And maybe find a teacher in your school that enjoys doing poetry with her/his class. Find out what they do, and what the results have been.

Quite a number of teachers I’ve met in the hundreds of schools I’ve visited over the last few years have said how much poetry has truly revitalised their English teaching, and got the boys in their classes really motivated. What not to like?

And even if you don’t especially like poetry yourself – and you don’t have to – simply try and source some poems and poetry activities that your class could have fun with and be stimulated by. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results. Enjoy!

book-launch-3-002An award-winning children’s poet, James Carter travels all over the cosmos (well, Britain) with his guitar (that’s Keith) to give lively poetry performances and workshops. James once had hair, extremely long hair (honestly), and he played in a really nasty ultra-loud heavy rock band. And, as a lifelong space cadet, James has discovered that poems are the best place to gather all his daydreamy thoughts. What’s more, he believes that daydreaming for ten minutes every day should be compulsory in all schools.

The World’s Greatest Space Cadet by James Carter is available to buy here 

Follow James on Twitter @JamesCarterPoet

www.jamescarterpoet.co.uk